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On Catkins and Lawrence

‘Do you really think, Rupert,’ she asked … ‘do you really think it is worth while?  Do you really think the children are better for being roused to consciousness?’ …

‘They are not roused to consciousness,’ he said, ‘consciousness comes to them willy-nilly.’

‘But do you think they are better for having it quickened, stimulated?  Isn’t it better that they should remain unconscious of the hazel, isn’t it better that they should see it as a whole, without all this pulling to pieces, all this knowledge?’

‘Would you rather, for yourself, know or not know, that the little red flowers are there, putting out for the pollen?’ he asked harshly …

‘I don’t know,’ she replied …

‘But knowing is everything to you, it is all your life,’ he broke out.  She slowly looked at him.

‘Is it?’ she said.

‘To know, that is your all, that is your life – you have only this, this knowledge,’ he cried, ‘There is only one tree, there is only one fruit in your mouth.’

… She was sometime silent.  ‘Is there?’ she said at last, with the same untouched calm.  And then in a tone of whimsical inquisitiveness:  ‘What fruit, Rupert?’

‘The eternal apple,’ he replied in exasperation, hating his own metaphors.

‘Yes,’ she said.  There was a look of exhaustion about her.  For some moments there was silence.  Then, pulling herself together with a convulsed movement, Hermione resumed, in a sing-song, casual voice.  ‘But leaving me apart, Rupert; do you think the children are better, richer, happier, for all this knowledge; do you really think they are?  Or is it better to leave them untouched, spontaneous.  Hadn’t they better be animals, simple animals, crude, violent, anything, rather than this self-conscious, this incapacity to be spontaneous.’ … ‘Hadn’t they better be anything than grow up crippled, crippled in their souls, crippled in their feelings – so thrown back – so turned back on themselves – incapable – ‘  Hermione clenched her fist like on in a trance – ‘of any spontaneous action, always deliberate, always burdened with choice, never carried away.’ … ‘Never carried away, out of themselves, always consciousness, always self-conscious, always aware of themselves.  Isn’t anything better than this?  Better be animals, mere animals, with no mind at all, than this, this nothingness -‘

‘But do you think it is knowledge that makes us unliving and self-conscious?’ he asked irritably.

She opened her eyes and looked at him slowly.  ‘Yes,’ she said.  She paused, watching him all the while, her eyes vague.  The she wiped her fingers across her brow, with a vague weariness.  It irritated him bitterly.  ‘It is the mind,’ she said, ‘and that is death.’  She raised her eyes slowly to him:  ‘Isn’t the mind – ‘ she said, with the convulsed movement of her body, ‘isn’t it our death?  Doesn’t it destroy all our spontaneity, all our instincts?  Are not the young people growing up today, really dead before they have a chance to live?’

‘Not because they have too much mind, but too little,’ he said brutally.

‘Are you sure,’ she cried, ‘It seems to me the reverse.  They are over-conscious, burdened to death with consciousness.’

‘Imprisoned within a limited, false set of concepts,’ he cried.

But she took no notice of this, only went on with her own rhapsodic interrogation.  ‘When we have knowledge, don’t we lose everything but knowledge?’ she asked pathetically.  ‘If I know about the flower, don’t I lose the flower and only have the knowledge?  Aren’t we exchanging the substance for the shadow, aren’t we forfeiting life for this dead quality of knowledge?  And what does it mean to me after all?  What does all this knowledge mean to me?  It means nothing.’

‘You are merely making words,’ he said; ‘knowledge means everything to you.  Even your animalism, you want it in your head.  You don’t want to BE an animal, you want to observe your own animal functions, to get a mental thrill out of them.  It is all purely secondary – and more decadent than the most hide-bound intellectualism.  What is it but the worst and last form of intellectualism, this love of yours for passion and the animal instincts?  Passion and the instincts – you want them hard enough, but through your head, in your consciousness.  It all takes place in your head, under that skull of yours.  Only you won’t be conscious of what ACTUALLY is; you want the lie that will match the rest of your furniture … It’s all that Lady of Shallot business,’ he said, ‘you’ve got that mirror, your own fixed will, your immortal understanding, your own tight conscious world, and there is nothing beyond it.  There, in the mirror, you must have everything.  But now you have come to all your conclusions, you want to go back and be like a savage, without knowledge.  You want a life of pure sensation and “passion”.’

He quoted the last word satirically against her.  She sat convulsed with fury on violation, speechless, like a stricken pythoness of the Greek oracle.

‘But your passion is a lie,’ he went on violently.  ‘It isn’t passion at all, it is your will.  It’s your bullying will.  You want to clutch things and have them in your power.  You want to have things in your power.  And why?  Because you haven’t got any real body, any dark sensual body of life.  You have no sensuality.  You have only your will and your conceit of consciousness, and your lust for power, to KNOW …

‘Spontaneous!’ he cried.  ‘You and spontaneity!  You, the most deliberate thing that ever walked or crawled!  You’d be verily deliberately spontaneous – that’s you.  Because you want to have everything in your own volition, your deliberate voluntary consciousness.  You want it all in that loathsome little skull of yours, that ought to be cracked like a nut.  For you’ll be the same till it is cracked, like an insect in its skin.  If one cracked your skull perhaps one might get a spontaneous, passionate woman out of you, with real sensuality.  As it is, what you want is pornography – looking at yourself in mirrors, watching your naked animal actions in mirrors, so that you can have it all in your consciousness, make it all mental.’ …

‘But do you really WANT sensuality?’ [Hermione] asked puzzled.

Birkin looked at her, and became intent in his explanation.  ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that and nothing else, at this point.  It is a fulfillment – the great dark knowledge you can’t have in your head – the dark involuntary being.  It is death to one’s self – but it is the coming into being of another.’

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